In another move signaling the ongoing mental health crisis in the country, a national panel of medical professionals is recommending that all children get screened for anxiety, starting at age 8.
The American Task Force on Preventive Services last month makes the same anxiety screening recommendation for all adults under 65.
Anxiety is one of the most commonly diagnosed mental disorders in children, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. This estimates approximately 5.8 million children ages 3 to 17 in the United States were diagnosed with anxiety from 2016 to 2019, or nearly 10% of all American children.
“We know that early intervention and treatment is the best chance a child has to continue to succeed in life and in school,” said Tali Raviv, associate director of the Center for Childhood Resilience at Lurie Children’s Hospital. .
Anxiety in children can manifest itself in physical ailments, like an upset stomach, or in behaviors like avoidance and irritability, according to Dawn Livorsi, a therapist at Northwestern University’s Family Institute.
“It’s going to be different depending on the developmental stages and personal characteristics of the child,” she said.
According to Raviv, common factors contributing to heightened anxiety in children can include family history and childhood adversities like trauma, poverty, exposure to violence and an interruption in caregiving. Young people who experience discrimination, young people who have immigrant or refugee status, and LGBTQ+ populations may also be more likely to experience heightened anxiety.
Children’s mental health issues are an issue that has only been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. “Children thrive on structure, and structure has been taken away,” Livorsi said. “We saw a lot of uncertainty, a lot of unpredictability.”
Raviv said anxiety is important to catch early because there are effective treatments for children, such as cognitive behavioral therapy, as well as medication for more severe cases.
“For some young people, anxiety that goes untreated is not something they’re going to overcome,” Raviv said. “If it starts to affect their ability to do their usual activities: going to school, going to see friends, interacting socially or it just causes them a lot of distress… It can really grow; it can also lead to secondary depression.
Some advice for parents and caregivers: “Talk to your children, recognize that not all communication is verbal,” Livorsi says. “Your child communicates whether he speaks to you verbally or not, so watch his behavior.”